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How to write about the Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL) in childminding learning journeys

Ever find yourself staring at that row of letters and boxes on your learning journey form that asks you to circle which Characteristic of Effective Learning (CEOL) you are seeing in your learning journey observation and feeling baffled?  If so, you are certainly not alone! The Learning and Development areas are relatively easy to understand. But the COEL are more complicated, and even the most experienced childminders can struggle to know which COEL they are seeing.

which characteristic of effective learning should i circleSometimes it helps to purposely set up some activities where you will almost certainly observe the COEL. It is a good to “practice” observing in a controlled way. That way you will become more familiar with the COEL when you observe them more randomly. This article will give you some simple activities you can plan to promote the COEL in a way that is easy to observe and write about.


It’s not always easy to recognise WHICH COEL you are seeing for a particular activity

Many childminders will admit that it is often very, very difficult to select which COEL box to circle on their learning journeys. This is for several reasons but primarily it is because the three COEL are interlinked with each other so it is not always straightforward to pin point which COEL you are observing. In fact, with many activities you will see children doing and might write about in your learning journeys, you could easily circle all three COEL boxes. Or none. Please don’t worry about this too much. It is more important for you to know that you are observing a child displaying the COEL than to necessarily know WHICH COEL you are observing in a particular situation.



active-learning-for-childmindersTake a trip to the playground or soft play gym to observe ‘Active Learning’

Active Learning (AL) is essentially about describing a child’s motivation to learn. At a playground you should see many examples of children ‘keeping on trying’ to accomplish something and ‘achieving what they set out to do’. In your learning journey write about how the child felt when he succeeded or ‘felt proud’ about something.

Plan structured art activities to promote ‘Active Learning’ and unstructured play with art materials to promote ‘Creating and Thinking Critically’

There are two Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL) that you can explore while you do art projects with small children. By changing the focus of the art project, you can change which COEL you hope to promote and observe.

Art projects with small children tend to come in two different types. The first type of art project is one where you set out purposely to make a specific project that you ultimately hope will at least vaguely resemble the model or idea you are copying. The second type of art projects is where you set the children loose to simply play with the art materials, exploring them for their own sake. Both of these types have their place in childminding settings and in the activities you plan for the children.


When you set out to purposely make a specific project (like colouring a picture), then this is a great opportunity to make observations on how well the children can concentrate on a particular task. It is also an opportunity to witness them keeping on trying when difficulties persist and feeling proud of their accomplishment when it is finished. These are all ‘Active Learning (AL)’ observations.


On the other hand, when you set the children loose with paint brushes and stand back and just let them paint, or give them random collage materials or scraps to build with, then you are observing them ‘Creating and Thinking Critically (CT)’. Time spent in this way gives children the opportunity to explore their own ideas, to make links between ideas, to have their own ideas and to choose the best way to do something.


Mathematical and construction toys promote ‘Creating and Thinking Critically’

creating-and-thinking-critically-for-childmindersMany mathematical and construction toys and activities help to promote the COEL: Creating and Thinking Critically in children. They are designed to help children to test their ideas about space, shapes and sizes, to find new ways to do things, to make links and to change strategy as needed. They offer you plenty of opportunities to ask children to review what approach worked and to try something differently next time.


Cooking projects can promote all three Characteristics of Effective Learning

When children try something for the first time, are willing to ‘have a go’ and show a ‘can-do’ attitude about an experience, then they are demonstrating Playing and Exploring (PE). Cooking requires concentration and motivation to finish a difficult task. When you observe children keeping on trying, persisting with an activity that is hard for them, and taking pride in their end result, then they are demonstrating Active Learning (AL). Cooking projects are also a great opportunity to observe children Creating and Thinking Critically (CTC). When they are cooking they will have their own ideas about the best way to do things, and find ways to solve problems (like how to tip all the flour into the bowl without pouring it on the floor).


Forest Childcare outings promote ‘Creating and Thinking Critically’

Forest childcare autumnForest Childcare outings to the great outdoors are a great way to observe all aspects of children’s Learning and Development including Personal, Emotional and Social skills, Physical Development and Communication. Outdoor outings are also a great way to observe children displaying the COEL.

Being outdoors in ‘wild’ places gives children the opportunity to practice their critical thinking and problem solving skills. How will they get across there without getting wet? How will they carry that home? What will happen if I throw that? How will I get down from here without hurting myself?

You can help children to practice their thinking and problem solving skills while you are out in the woods with them by asking them questions like:

  • How are you going to do that?
  • Is there another way you could try that?
  • What else is possible?

Outdoor tasks are a great opportunity to ask children to think of different approaches to a problem if the first approach doesn’t seem to be working. I felt so proud the day my two four year olds figured out that on their own neither was strong enough to drag the log, but that if they worked together they could move it!

Forest Childcare is about making a commitment to taking children on weekly outdoor outings to wild spaces. By taking regular trips, children build familiarity with the outdoors and can learn to make links and predications about the things they will encounter there and experience.

Being outdoors will mean that children will ask lots of questions about the things they see and find. You won’t always know the answers to the questions they ask, so it is also a great opportunity to let children watch how you think, and then to show them how to find the answers to their questions.


Remember that many childminding activities do not promote any of the COEL

Many of the activities you do as a childminder will promote NONE of the COEL. Many observations you may make and write about in your learning journeys will focus entirely on the learning and development areas and not promote a COEL at all. When that happens, you shouldn’t circle any of the COEL boxes at all.


Do you want to improve your understanding of the Characteristics of Effective Learning?

Promoting the Characteristics of Effective Learning PosterFor help putting the Characteristics of Effective Learning into practice including tools, activity ideas, certificates you can give to children, poster and display ideas, CPD worksheets for your setting, examples for your SEF and a setting checklist for the COEL, check out my new Characteristics of Effective Learning Pack for childminders.


Do you want to improve how you write your learning journeys?

I am now offering an 8 module distance learning course for childminders to improve how you write your learning journey observations. The course focusses on both the Learning and Development observations AND the Characteristics of Effective Learning. The course also covers the following topics:

  • Writing next steps and linking them to planning
  • Writing observations in different Learning and Development areas including Physical Development, Personal, Social and Emotional development, Communication and Language, Mathematics and Creative development
  • Writing and observing the Characteristics of Effective Learning
  • Improving the ‘story’ and ‘message’ of the observation
  • Sharing learning journeys with parents
  • Linking learning journeys to whole child assessments
  • Using learning journeys to promote a childminding business
  • Writing about ‘bad’ and ‘negative’ behaviour in a positive way


About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.

Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.


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